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Iran vows not to 'retreat one iota' in nuclear pursuit

Story Highlights

• The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to receive a report on Iran on Thursday
• Iran says it's willing to assure the West it will never move toward nuclear weapons
• President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran won't halt enrichment
• Security Council won't take action before March 9, leaving time for more dialogue
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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- The Iranian president scoffed Wednesday at a U.N. Security Council demand that the Islamic republic halt its uranium-enrichment program.

"Iran will not retreat one iota in its path to nuclear victory," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech Wednesday, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

He added, "Today, there are those who are against Iran's access to peaceful nuclear technology and are trying to put obstacles in our nuclear path in order to prevent us from exercising our rights with the grace of the God," IRNA reported.

Ahmadinejad's remarks come the day before a report on Iran's nuclear activities is scheduled to be circulated to the Security Council in New York.

Tehran has insisted that its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only, but Western powers have said Iran has its eye on nuclear weaponry.

Iran's position on the matter has remained static since well before July, when the United Nations gave Iran an August 31 deadline to halt its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad told reporters as that deadline passed, "Access to peaceful nuclear energy and power is the right of the Iranian people. We've chosen our right and under international law we want to use our right. Nobody can prevent us from it."

On December 23, the 15-member Security Council unanimously approved a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran. Russia and China, two veto-wielding members of the Security Council, voted in favor of the resolution despite previously expressing their aversion to imposing sanctions.

Under Resolution 1737, the council requested that International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei report within 60 days on whether Iran has suspended its nuclear activities.

It was initially reported that the deadline expired Wednesday -- 60 days after the December 23 resolution passed -- but an IAEA official told CNN the deadline is Friday. ElBaradei is scheduled to deliver his report Thursday, the official said.

ElBaradei said in Monday's Financial Times that he expected to report that Iran had not complied with the resolution. However, ElBaradei noted, the Security Council will not take any action until he reports to the IAEA board of governors next month.

"Even if my report is coming out this week, I can still add and reverse judgments there until the sixth of March," ElBaradei told the London-based newspaper. The board of governors is scheduled to meet in Vienna, Austria, March 5-9.

After the December 23 vote, Iran defiantly vowed to continue with its nuclear program, which included the production of 3,000 centrifuges at its nuclear complex in Natanz. Iran said the work would be done under IAEA supervision.

ElBaradei told The Financial Times that Iran was still months from having those centrifuges running smoothly. Presently, the IAEA chief said, Iran is operating at least one 164-centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium.

Experts say thousands of centrifuges are needed to produce weapons-grade uranium, and ElBaradei told the newspaper Monday that Iran's operation "is still small scale, so whatever they have, what we have seen today, is not the kind of capacity that would enable them to make bomb."

Assurances offered

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ari Larijani, who met with ElBaradei in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday, told IRNA that Iran was willing to offer assurances that its nuclear program was aimed at energy production, not bombmaking.

One of the proffered assurances, according to Reuters, is an Iranian pledge to refine uranium no higher than the 4-5 percent level, well below the 80 percent threshold needed for nuclear bombs.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in Iran's nuclear matters. According to Reuters, Ali Akbar Velayati, a Khamenei aide, told a French newspaper that Iran was flexible on negotiating a deal,"but one cannot dictate the solution in advance."

The Iranian nuclear issue will be discussed over a breakfast meeting among U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Israel also has a stake in the negotiations as Ahmadinejad has questioned the United States' "blind support for the Zionists" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on the international community Wednesday to step up its pressure on the Islamic republic. He also questioned Iranian assertions regarding the progress of the nation's nuclear program.

"A lot more has to be done, but I think that the Iranians are not as close to the technological threshold as they claim to be, and unfortunately they are not as far [away] as we would love them to be," he said. "So there is a lot that still can be done and ought to be done. And the sooner it will be done the better it will be."

He continued with remarks addressing Ahmadinejad, "It is incumbent upon the international community not only to take practical measures to stop these threats but also to take practical measures that will indicate the extent of the disapproval of his language, of his attitude and of his approaches."

CNN's Liz Neisloss and Michal Zippori contributed to this report.

Chief negotiator Ari Larijani says the Islamic republic would be willing to give assurances that its nuclear program will never deviate toward weapons.


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